Where Walker and Warnock stand on crime

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Rising rates of violent crime are a top concern for Georgia voters.

And the two candidates vying for the state’s U.S. Senate seat disagree on how to tackle the problem.

For Sen. Raphael Warnock, the state’s criminal justice system is in need of an overhaul to reduce “mass incarceration” and better train police. In his view, stricter gun laws are necessary to keep people safe.

His Republican opponent, Herschel Walker, paints a different picture. He blames Democrats for rampant crime and demoralized police, and he has said that harsher criminal punishments are needed that don’t infringe on gun access. He has also said a surge of migration and lax entry policies at the border with Mexico have contributed to the crime spike in the U.S. without citing any evidence.

Georgia — and the nation at large — have seen sharp increases in gun-related violence. This summer marked the third straight year of increased homicides in Atlanta.

While those numbers have since slowed, a September poll for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution listed crime and gun violence as among the issues voters ranked as most important.

Walker and Warnock on the issues

The AJC is publishing a series of detailed stories about what Republican Herschel Walker and Democrat Raphael Warnock have said and done about key issues in their U.S. Senate race.

- Crime

- Health care

- Economy

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock

For Warnock, one key to reducing violent crime is getting more guns off the streets.

In June, the Democrat cast a vote in favor of the first major gun safety legislation to pass Congress in decades. The $13 billion bipartisan bill came together in the wake of mass shootings at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school and a Buffalo, New York, supermarket.

Among other things, the new law funds crisis intervention programs and expands background checks for gun buyers under age 21.

Warnock would like to go even further. He said in October that he wants to “work and see what we can achieve beyond that.” He is a co-sponsor of a measure that would ban semiautomatic weapons, such as AR-15 rifles. That 2021 bill did not reach the Senate floor.

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Warnock supported the Invest to Protect Act, a program endorsed by several Georgia sheriffs that provided money to local police departments.

If reelected to the Senate, Warnock has said he wants to end cash bail for nonviolent misdemeanor offenses. He also supports appointing independent prosecutors to handle shootings involving police and putting more money into police officer training to build trust with communities.

Walker has repeatedly accused Warnock of failing to back police officers and accused him of calling them “thugs.”

He was referring to Warnock’s use of the word in a sermon he delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2015. In it, Warnock discussed officers in Ferguson, Missouri, involved in the shooting of an unarmed Black man. His campaign said he was referring to those specific officers, not police in general.

On immigration, Warnock has said he supports an overhaul that “fixes what is broken in our system” and “provides a reasonable path to citizenship.” He has expressed support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which shields from deportation hundreds of thousands of unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

But Warnock angered local immigrant rights advocates when he opposed President Joe Biden’s decision to reverse a border policy established under then-President Donald Trump.

Republican nominee Herschel Walker

Crime is a frequent refrain in Walker’s campaign appearances, where he casts himself as a staunch supporter of police who can keep Georgians safe.

Walker has attributed rising rates of violent crime in the state to Democratic politicians who he says have “demoralized, defunded and undermined” law enforcement..

“What I’m going to do is get behind our men and women in blue,” he said at a rally in Forsyth County.

But Walker has provided no specifics about how he would do that beyond saying he would “fight to fully fund all of our public safety officials.” Most local law enforcement funding comes from local governments, not the federal budget, which the U.S. Senate approves.

He has rolled out endorsements from dozens of sheriffs statewide and highlighted work he did with law enforcement agencies in areas such as Cobb County on mental health. But he has also faced criticism for statements made before entering the Senate race where he said falsely that he worked in law enforcement, including the FBI. In response, Walker brandished an honorary deputy badge he said he had received for his work with police.

Credit: Screen shot

Credit: Screen shot

Walker has attacked Warnock’s initiatives to remove cash bail, saying during their sole debate in October that “people must be accountable for their actions.”

He is also a strong supporter of gun rights.

During that same debate, Walker said “any law or bill passed that’ll affect anyone’s Second Amendment, I’m not going to stand for, and I won’t support.”

Walker said he would not have backed the bipartisan gun control bill that passed earlier this year, but he did not explain why. And he left even supporters baffled when, soon after the Uvalde shooting, he made incoherent remarks about gun control in an interview with Fox News..

After reminding viewers that “Cain killed Abel,” Walker suggested “getting a department that can look at young men that’s looking at women that’s looking at their social media.”

Walker has linked rising crime to what he calls “the wide open border” between the U.S. and Mexico. People coming into the country illegally are bringing in drugs, such as fentanyl, he said.

Studies have shown that U.S. citizens commit crimes at higher rates than those who enter the country illegally. Nonetheless, an AJC poll found that immigration ranked high among Republican voters’ concerns.

Walker has called for more law enforcement agents at the southern border and supported Trump’s plan to build a wall there. But he distanced himself from Trump’s goal of deporting millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.

“We are very generous country. We’re very compassionate. But we are also a country of laws,” he said at a rally in Kennesaw. “And that’s what we’ve got to get back to. We’ve got to get back to the country of laws that we were.”